Port Gibson A case study in financial dysfunction

Published 12:02 am Sunday, July 3, 2011

If an award existed for such, we would nominate the City of Port Gibson for the first “How NOT to manage a city.”

It began on May 9 when aldermen voted 4-2 in favor of securing a $500,000 loan. The loan would be repaid with tax money received from Grand Gulf in March. Mayor Fred Reeves vetoed the request, saying he wanted to stop the “vicious cycle of borrowing for our day-to-day operations.”

Reeves was correct. Port Gibson needs austerity measures. With a dwindling tax base and few industries, elected officials must find ways to make less go further. Not good enough, aldermen said, before overriding Reeves’ veto in a meeting Reeves did not attend.

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Days later, Trustmark Bank denied the city’s loan request. Eventually, Concordia Bank of Louisiana OK’d the loan, which came with 3.5 percent interest payments and more than $11,000 in fees from attorneys, including Port Gibson city attorney and Vicksburg Mayor Paul Winfield, and a Jackson law firm.

Sound familiar? The board did the same thing in 2010, borrowing $250,000 to stay afloat after Reeves was forced to have street lights around town turned off because the city couldn’t afford its power bills. In properly functioning houses, if power bills cannot be paid, something else must go first. But not Port Gibson. No, after the 2010 emergency loan to turn on the lights, aldermen voted themselves a 41 percent raise, gave city employees a 3 percent raise and committed the city to a 20-year lease-purchase agreement at $15,000 per month for police cars and pickups.

What will happen to this round of money? Who knows? The garbage behind City Hall, overflowing for weeks, was finally picked up, and the lights, it appears, will stay on in downtown. But the problem has just gotten worse.

Port Gibson is playing 3-card monty with the city’s limited finances. Every time the city borrows against anticipated future taxes, it allows for that much less in actual operating expenses when the next fiscal year begins. In 2010, the loan request was $250,000. This year’s request was $500,000. What will next year be? At the rate aldermen are green-lighting mammoth loans, in four years the loan required will exceed the city’s annual budget.

Reeves campaigned for mayor in 2007 claiming the biggest problem the city faced was financial instability.

Four years later, aldermen are playing the same games that got them into this situation.

Doing more with less is not palatable to anyone, especially not aldermen in Port Gibson. But it’s the only solution.

Borrowing on the future will work only until the future is lost forever.

Welcome to Port Gibson.